Friday, June 01, 2012

Some pesky stats from Australia

Australia was founded as a branch of the most advanced civilization of its day (Britain) and was therefore very early in adoption of the latest science. One of my ancestors, for instance, was vaccinated against smallpox on his arrival in Sydney in 1828.

And meterorological records were kept from early on. Such records are rare in the Southern hemisphere so deserve some attention. If something is "global", there should be records of it in the Southern hemisphere too. We find here a careful record of Sydney temperature minima and maxima from 1859 to December 2005.

The very first line of the table is interesting. It is for January -- which is of course midsummer in the Southern hemisphere. We note that the highest maximum temperature for any month in any year was 45.3 (Celsius) on 14/01/1939. Yes: 1939.

We also note that the highest average temperature was 33.7 (Celsius) on 13/01/1896. Yes: 1896.

And I can assure you that my ancestors were not driving SUVs at that time -- though I do have a picture of one of their bullock teams proudly displayed on my wall. I am a descendant of teamsters!

Green Party nonsense: nuclear power and the problem of the precautionary principle

Since I've already ruined my chances of ever leading the warriors of the Green Party in glorious revolution, what with saying that the vandalism of publicly funded scientific research is pretty much not cool, I've decided to throw caution to the wind.

From the Greens' energy policy, I read this:

"The Green Party is fundamentally opposed to nuclear energy, which we consider to be expensive and dangerous. The technology is not carbon neutral, and being reliant on uranium it is not renewable. We consider its use, moreover, to be elitist and undemocratic. There is so far no safe way of disposing of nuclear waste. To a degree unequalled by even the worst of other dangerous industries, the costs and dangers of nuclear energy and its waste will be passed on to future generations long after any benefits have been exhausted."

This statement is problematic on a number of levels. I don't like the idea of being "fundamentally opposed" to one of the most obvious available options for keeping our lights on. If it is shown to be safe and economic, then we should use it. It's not a moral issue; it's just one more tool, which we can use well or badly, safely or unsafely. Also: how can an energy technology be "elitist"? I literally don't know what that means. Is it elitist because it's hi-tech and third-world countries can't easily make their own? Well, so are iPads, then, and Toyota Priuses. Or does the word "elitist" just mean "bad" in Green-land, in the same way that "natural" means "good"? [Edit: I can't believe I didn't pick up on "undemocratic" as well. Since when are power stations democratic institutions?]

As for it not being renewable: well, neither is sunlight or the wind, if you're taking a sufficiently long view. Eventually the Sun will consume the last of its hydrogen and expand into a red giant, probably blasting the Earth to its constituent atoms as it does so. But that's quite a long way off, so we don't worry about that. In the shorter but still decently long term, even if no more uranium deposits are found (although they will be) and no more efficient ways of using it developed (although they will be), "total identified resources are sufficient for over 100 years of supply", according to the IAEA. That ain't nothing.

"Carbon neutral" is a bit of a red herring as well in this case. It's true, nuclear power is not carbon neutral. But it's much less carbon positive, if that makes sense, than fossil fuels. The perfect is the enemy of the good, as the saying goes: just because something isn't the best possible, doesn't mean you should ignore it if it's an improvement over what is available. Furthermore, there is potential to improve the carbon emissions of nuclear; if it is made economically attractive to do so, companies will do it themselves. Targeted carbon taxes, or an auction of carbon credits, would work; certainly the latter did for industrial sulphur dioxide emissions.

But this is all a side issue, isn't it? It's about safety. Nuclear power is unsafe. Look at Chernobyl, look at Three Mile Island, look at Fukushima. It's dangerous, as the Greens say, and its cost, dangers and waste will be "passed on to future generations".

But as Prof Paddy Regan says in our paper today, that's false. Chernobyl killed about 50 people (28 people in the immediate weeks after; an estimated 19, according to the WHO, died of radiation-induced cancers in the following 20 years). Three Mile Island killed, and indeed harmed, precisely nobody. And Fukushima was the most ridiculous of all: as a vast earthquake and tsunami killed 15,000 people, the world's attention was focused on a meltdown in a 40-year-old reactor which, again, killed no one at all. As Prof Regan points out, it led to absurdities:

"The Italian foreign ministry, for example, recommended that its citizens flew out of Tokyo to avoid potential radiation exposure in the first couple of weeks following the Fukushima leak. While the radiation levels in the Japanese capital rose significantly above normal, they remained lower than the typical average background radiation levels in Rome, leading to the bizarre situation of individuals being relocated to places with higher radiation levels than those they were leaving."

He also points out that the waste from the "natural reactor" at Oklo in Gabon, which underwent a spontaneous nuclear reaction in its uranium-rich deposits two billion years ago, has moved less than 10 metres from where it was formed. "If this is what happens in nature’s random geological disposal site, a carefully chosen, geologically stable deep storage facility for vitrified nuclear fuel waste would seem safe to me," says Prof Regan.

Meanwhile, in the last 40 years, tens of thousands of people have been killed by failures at hydroelectric dams; hundreds more have died in coal mines, and of course thousands every year in the US alone from respiratory problems caused by fossil fuels. But the fear of "radiation", evident in the nonsense scares about "electrosmog", trump the very real dangers of other energy sources. (There's another interesting piece to write some day about our evolved fear of "contamination"; since the 1940s or so "radiation" has been mentally filed under "poisons", and therefore any at all is bad. But this piece is long enough already.)

The "precautionary principle", the idea that a new technology or policy should not be employed until we can be sure it is safe, sounds very reasonable. But as always, it's more complicated than that. Everything we do entails not doing something else; in this case, not using nuclear, in the short term at least, means more coal, more shale gas, more fracking, to maintain energy demands (and cutting energy use would cause its own problems, of course). Is that safer? Nuclear power has risks, of course it does. But so does everything, and nuclear power has clear potential benefits. The trick is to calmly and sensibly assess those risks and benefits, not pull up the drawbridge out of misguided fear.


Der Spiegel Skewers the World Wildlife Fund

A splendid and disturbing investigative feature in Der Spiegel explains why the WWF doesn’t deserve your charitable donations.

Screen capture from the Der Spiegel article. Click to jump to the article

Yesterday the German news magazine Der Spiegel ran an investigative feature article on the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

This is not the sort of thing one usually finds in the mainstream media, especially not in Germany. For the average member of the public, making informed decisions about which organizations deserve one’s charitable donations is difficult. This article is chock-a-block with the sort of information we all deserve to know.

Here are some direct quotes to whet your appetite:

  • “Over the years, the WWF has received a total of $120 million from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).”
  • “Companies pay seven-figure fees for the privilege of using the [WWF] logo [on their products].”
  • “In Sumatra, members of a tribal group reported how troops hired by WWF partner Wilmar had destroyed their houses…”
  • “The Dutch section of WWF helped pay for Greenpeace’s flagship, the Rainbow Warrior.”
  • “Experts estimate that in Africa alone, conservation efforts have created 14 million ‘conservation refugees’…”
  • “Ruswantu takes affluent eco-tourists on tours of the park on the backs of tamed elephants. The area is off-limits for the locals…’The WWF is in charge here…’”
  • “‘Sustainable palm oil, as the WWF promises with its RSPO certificates, is really nonexistent,’ [a former WWF employee] says.”
  • “[leftist activist target] Monsanto…has donated $100,000 to the WWF over the years…”
  • “The [German branch of the WWF] even paid the travel expenses for representatives of the Argentine branch of the WWF, which was long run by a man with ties to the former military junta…”

During the 1980s the WWF reportedly funded helicopter death squads that exterminated liquidated summarily executed dozens of local poachers in a national park in Zimbabwe. The inescapable conclusion, therefore, is that while the WWF takes extreme measures to prevent poor, indigenous locals from hunting African wildlife, if you’re a wealthy foreigner different rules apply. Says the magazine:

Spanish King Juan Carlos, for example, was recently in the news after he broke his hip while hunting elephants in Botswana. Juan Carlos is the honorary president of WWF Spain, which many find outrageous. In Namibia alone, the WWF has permitted trophy hunting in 38 conservation areas.

Rich Europeans or Americans are allowed to behave as if the colonial period had never ended. They are allowed to shoot elephants, buffalo, leopards, lions, giraffes and zebras…A WWF spokesman defends this practice, saying that quotas have been established, and that the proceeds from this “regulated hunting” can contribute to conservation.

The following passage, however, is perhaps the most interesting of all. At WWF world headquarters near Geneva, the article tells us,

plaques there commemorate the people to whom the organization owes a great debt: the “Members of The 1001.” This elite group of undisclosed financiers was created in 1971 to provide financial backing for the organization.

To this day, the WWF does not like to disclose the names of the donors, probably because some of those appearing on the club’s list would not exactly help their image – people like arms dealer Adnan Khashoggi and former Zairian dictator Mobutu Sese Seko.

Then-WWF President Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands was able to recruit oil multinational Shell as his first major sponsor. In 1967, thousands of birds died after a tanker accident off the coast of France, and yet the WWF forbade all criticism. That could “jeopardize” future efforts to secure donations from certain industrial sectors, WWF officials said during a board meeting.

I urge you to read the whole thing here. It’s well worth your time.


America’s actual health and welfare crisis

It is EPA rules that most gravely threaten our energy, economy, health, welfare, justice, and civil rights progress

Paul Driessen

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson says we face grave threats to human health, welfare and justice. She’s absolutely right. However, the dangers are not due to factory or power plant emissions, or supposed effects of “dangerous manmade global warming.”

They are the result of policies and regulations that her EPA is imposing in the name of preventing climate change and other hypothetical and exaggerated environmental problems. It is those government actions that are the gravest threat to Americans’ health, welfare, and pursuit of happiness and justice.

By hyper-regulating carbon dioxide, soot, mercury, “cross-state air pollution” from sources hundreds of miles away, and other air and water emissions, EPA intends to force numerous coal-fired power plants to shut down years before their productive life is over; sharply reduce emissions from cars, factories, refineries and other facilities, regardless of the costs; and block the construction of new coal-fired power plants, because none will be able to slash their carbon dioxide emissions to half of what average coal-fired plants now emit, without employing expensive (and nonexistent) CO2 capture and storage technologies.

EPA has also issued 588 pages of rules for hydraulic fracturing for critically needed oil and natural gas, while the Obama Administration has vetoed the Keystone XL pipeline and made 95% of all publicly owned (but government controlled) energy resources unavailable for leasing, exploration, drilling and mining.

These actions reflect President Obama’s campaign promises to “bankrupt any company that tries to build a new coal-fired power plant,” replace hydrocarbons with heavily subsidized solar, wind and biofuel energy, make energy prices “necessarily skyrocket,” advance rent-seeking crony-corporatism – and “fundamentally transform” America’s constitutional, legal, energy, economic and social structure.

Energy is the lifeblood of our nation’s economy, jobs, living standards and civil rights progress. Anything that affects energy availability, reliability and price affects every aspect of our lives. These federal diktats put bureaucrats and activists in charge of our entire economy – seriously impairing our health and welfare.

Moreover, the anti-hydrocarbon global warming “solutions” the Obama Administration is imposing will bring no real world benefits – even assuming carbon dioxide actually drives climate change. That’s largely because China, India and other developing countries are increasing their use of coal for electricity generation, and thus their CO2 emissions – far beyond our ability to reduce US emissions. These nations rightly refuse to sacrifice economic growth and poverty eradication on the altar of climate alarmism.

Even worse, the health, welfare and environmental justice benefits that EPA claims will result from its regulations are equally exaggerated and illusory. They exist only in the same dishonest computer-generated virtual reality that concocted its alleged climate change, health and environmental cataclysms, and in junk-science analyses that can best be described as borderline fraud.

Implementing EPA’s regulatory agenda will inflict severe economic dislocations and send shock waves through America’s factories, farmlands and families. Far from improving our health and welfare – they will make our economy, unemployment, living standards, health and welfare even worse.

EPA’s new automobile mileage standards alone will result in thousands of additional serious injuries and deaths every year, as cars are further downsized to meet its arbitrary 54.5 mpg requirements. Its anti-coal and anti-fracking rules will severely impact electricity generation, reliability and prices; factory, office and hospital operations and budgets; American industries’ competitiveness in global markets; employment, hiring and layoffs; and the well-being of families and entire communities. Especially for areas that depend on mining and manufacturing – and the 26 states where coal-based power generation keeps electricity rates at half of what they are in states with the least coal use and toughest renewable energy mandates (6-9 cents versus 13-17 cents per kilowatt hour) – it will be all pain, for no gain.

According to the Wall Street Journal, a White House letter to House Speaker John Boehner inadvertently acknowledged that EPA alone is still working on new regulations that the agency itself calculates will impose $105 billion in additional regulatory burdens and compliance costs. Win or lose in November, the Administration will likely impose these and other postponed rules after the elections. We, our children and grandchildren will pay for them in countless ways.

Utilities will have to spend $130 billion to retrofit or replace older coal-fired units, says energy analyst Roger Bezdek – and another $30 billion a year for operations, maintenance and extra fuel for energy-intensive scrubbers and other equipment, to generate increasingly expensive electricity.

Duke Energy’s new $3.3 billion coal gasification and “carbon dioxide capture” power plant will increase rates for its Indiana customers by some 15% the next two years. Hospitals, factories, shopping malls and school districts will have to pay an extra $150,000 a year in operating expenses for each million dollars in annual electricity bills. That’s four or five entry-level jobs that won’t be created or preserved.

Nationwide, 319 coal-fueled power plants totaling 42,895 megawatts (13% of the nation's coal fleet and enough for 40 million homes and small businesses) are already slated to close, the Sierra Club joyfully proclaimed. Illinois families and businesses could pay 20% more for electricity by 2014, the Chicago Tribune reports. Chicago public schools may have to find an extra $2.7 million a year to keep the lights and heat on and computers running.

Higher electricity prices will further strain refineries already struggling with soaring electricity costs and EPA’s sulfur and other regulations, restrictions on refinery upgrades and construction, constraints on moving crude oil to East Coast refineries, and other compliance costs – all for dubious environmental or health benefits. Three East Coast refineries have already closed, costing thousands of jobs and causing the Department of Energy to warn that pump prices are likely to soar even higher in Eastern states.

When we include discouraged workers who have given up looking for jobs, and people who have been forced to work fewer hours or at temporary jobs, our unemployment rate is a whopping 19 percent – and double that for black and Hispanic young people. America’s labor force participation rate is at a 30-year low. Our nation’s 2011 economic growth rate was a dismal 1.7 percent.

Well over a million US workers age 55 and older have now been out of work for 27 weeks or more. Not only do prospects plummet for re-employment of older workers. The longer they are unemployed, the more they are disconnected from society, the further their living standards fall, the more their physical and emotional well-being deteriorates, and the more likely they are to die prematurely.

The cumulative effect is that families have even less money to buy food, pay the rent or mortgage, repair the car or house, save for college and retirement, take a vacation – and keep people comfortable (and alive) on frigid winter nights and sweltering summer afternoons. Workers lose jobs. Health and welfare, family relationships, future prospects and psychological well-being plummet. Because they spend the highest proportion of their incomes on energy, poor and minority families suffer disproportionately.

And yet the EPA and White House regulatory agenda, regulatory onslaught and horse-blinder definition of health, welfare and justice ignore these realities – and ensure that this unconscionable situation will only get worse. In fact, the only welfare EPA’s rules will ensure is the expansion of our welfare rolls, unemployment lines and already record-setting food stamp programs.

EPA is also giving billions of taxpayer dollars to activist groups, to advance its agenda and dominate our media and hearings with false or misleading information about the costs and benefits of its programs.

Worst of all, our Congress and courts have completely abdicated their obligations to provide oversight and control of this dictatorial agency and Obama Administration. If this is the hope, change and future we can look “forward” to, our nation’s health, well-being and justice will be rolled backward.


Is Washington, D.C., Really the Environment's Savior?

Guest post by Jonathan H. Adler, a professor at the Case Western Reserve University School of Law and a regular contributor to the Volokh Conspiracy.

Note by JR: The market-based approaches briefly outlined below are useful contributors to real environmental problems but they cannot deal with mythical problems such as CO2 "pollution". You have to have a real problem before you can mitigate it

It can be a bit lonely working on environmental issues from the "right" side of the political spectrum. Environmental academics and activists rarely have much patience (let alone sympathy) for principles that would limit the scope of government power and few conservatives or libertarians take environmental issues seriously.

Some of my friends on the right seem to think that any environmental problem the market cannot magically solve must be a hoax. There's no doubt many environmental threats have been exaggerated, and the capacity of traditional regulatory institutions to address environmental concerns is often oversold, but serious environmental problems remain, and they should be addressed.

Yet in the political sphere, those on the right either oppose every environmental measure with a reactionary fervor or they insist that whatever we do, we just have to make it cost a bit less. Neither is a satisfactory response. Blind opposition to the Sierra Club's agenda does not an environmental policy make. Nor is there a compelling case for always doing environmental initiatives on the cheap. Across the aisle, unfortunately, concerns for regulatory costs and limitations are viewed with equal suspicion.

As illustrated in the past three posts, much of my work explores the possibility and potential of a "pro-environment" policy agenda that is consistent with principles of limited government. This sort of approach is often characterized as "free market environmentalism" or "FME." This moniker may be a bit of a misnomer in that it emphasizes the "market" rather than the underlying set of institutions upon which markets - and sound conservation - both depend, but it certainly communicates the idea of trying to reconcile free enterprise and environmental protection through the recognition and protection of property rights in environmental resources.

This approach cuts against the grain of conventional environmental policy. Suggestions for dramatic reform of environmental laws is regularly characterized as "anti-environmental." Part of the problem is the standard fable of federal environmental regulation which recounts an overly romanticized view of the federal government's role in environmental protection. Based on this fable, many believe any effort to curtail federal regulatory authority, expand protection of property rights, or create greater state flexibility is an attack on environmental protection. But it ain't necessarily so.

According to the standard fable, post-war environmental conditions got inexorably worse until the nation's environmental consciousness awoke in the 1960s and demanded action. State and local governments were environmental laggards, according to this story, and only the federal government was capable of safeguarding ecological concerns. Events such as the 1969 fire on the Cuyahoga River, memorialized in Time magazine with this picture, are pointed to as support for this traditional account. This fire, which helped spur passage of the 1972 Clean Water Act, is constantly cited as evidence of how bad things were before the federal government got involved.

Yet the standard fable is just that, a fable - a fictionalized account with some truth, but fiction nonetheless. Let's start with the 1969 fire. There was a fire on the Cuyahoga River in June 1969, Time magazine did run a photo of a fire on the Cuyahoga, and the story of the fire did help spur passage of the CWA. But that's about where the truth ends. The fire was actually a minor event in Cleveland, largely because river fires on the Cuyahoga had once been common, as they had been on industrialized rivers throughout the United States, throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries. But river fires were costly and posed serious risks to people and property, prompting local governments and private industry to act. The fire was not evidence of how bad things could get, but a reminder of how bad things had been.

Further, the June 1969 fire was far smaller and less significant than the fires of years past. Where there had been some major infernos on the Cuyahoga in years past, the 1969 fire was not among them. The fire burned for less than thirty minutes, and was out before the cameras arrived. (Here's the closest thing to a picture of that fire.) And that picture in Time magazine? It was not of the 1969 fire but of a fire from 1952. Apparently the editors of Time felt the need to dramatize their story of environmental ruin with a picture of a real fire, so they used the best picture they could find, even if it was not of the fire featured in their story. [For those interested, here is an extensive treatment of this history.]

The problems with the standard fable extend beyond the story of one river. While there were plenty of serious environmental problems in the 1960s, it's wrong to suggest everything was getting inexorably worse until the federal government got involved. Just as the problem of river fires had gotten better, not worse, prior to the 1969 Cuyahoga river, many environmental indicators were improving before the enactment of the major federal environmental laws. According the Environmental Protection Agency's first national water quality inventory in 1972, levels of some key pollutants had been declining significantly in the decade prior to enactment of the CWA. Ambient concentrations of some air pollutants, such as sulfur dioxide, had declined substantially before enactment of the federal Clean Air Act. Wetland loss rates plummeted before the extension of federal regulatory protection. And so on.

Not every trend was positive, to be sure, but many were. In particular, those environmental concerns that were most obvious, understandable, and costly were improving -- largely due to a combination of state, local and private efforts - whereas emerging or less-well understood problems were not. In some cases federal regulation augmented and enhanced these preexisting efforts, but in other areas it imposed redundant or excessive controls that crowded out more locally tailored efforts. (For more on these points, see here and here.)

None of this means that all federal environmental regulation was unnecessary or unwise. There are some environmental problems that state and local governments are unwilling or unable to address on their own. But, contrary to the standard fable, federal environmental regulation was not always necessary or an improvement over the available alternatives. Among other things it had the effect of dampening innovation and experimentation in environmental protection, encouraging a "one-size-fits-all" approach to some environmental problems that too often becomes "one-size-fits-nobody." And if there is to be renewed experimentation and innovation in environmental policy, there needs to be a recognition that not all environmental policy decisions are best made in Washington, D.C. My own proposal for how to encourage greater environmental innovation can be found here.

In my view, greater state flexibility is a necessary, but not sufficient, for meaningful environmental reform. Environmental problems are hard, and the best solutions are not always apparent. Even where there is a broad consensus on the desirability of a particular policy approach, questions of implementation and design remain. Experimentation and innovation are necessary to discover how best to get these details right. I believe that greater reliance on property rights and market institutions will lead to more effective and equitable environmental protection, but until such approaches are tried, the claim is speculative. Only by trying new approaches can we learn which measures best succeed, or fail. I believe property-based approaches will emerge as the best (or least bad) approach to many environmental problems, but we will not know for sure until we try. And unless one is truly satisfied with current approaches to environmental protection (and few are), there is no reason not to let the experiments begin.


Australia: Jobs bonanza in new brown coal rush

If Greenies hate coal, they REALLY hate brown coal (lignite) -- but it is very close to the surface in Australia so just has to be dredged up -- making it very cheap. It has been powering Victoria for decades. It is also now the major source of power for Germany (and -- Ahem! -- Greece)

A PLAN to export Victoria's brown coal will deliver 3300 jobs and more than $11 billion in new revenue as the state plots its own mining boom.

Internal government documents seen by the Herald Sun reveal the enormous scale of the proposed project and how advanced negotiations are.

The Baillieu Government has been in secret talks with a consortium from India, Japan and Australia for more than a year about granting access to the state's huge deposits of brown coal, papers show.

That project alone would generate $11 billion in state revenue and create 3000 jobs on its construction and another 300 on-going jobs through its operation.

And the Herald Sun understands that windfall could be the tip of the iceberg, as other overseas groups are interested in similar-scale schemes.

Documents detail how a consortium led by Australian company Exergen, backed by India's biggest business group, Tata, and Japan's third-largest trader, Itochu, is in talks with the Government over one plan.

Tata Power executives met state Energy Minister Michael O'Brien and federal Resources Minister Martin Ferguson in October, claiming the coal project could deliver $11 billion in royalties to Victoria's economy in the next 40 years.

Exergen has told the Government it has spent $20 million developing technology that can reduce the moisture content of brown coal from 65 per cent to 25 per cent, making it suitable for export.

Under the first stage of its Victorian project the consortium plans to spend $50 million building a full-scale commercial demonstration plant, to be operational within three years of it receiving an allocation.

Exergen is also collaborating with the CSIRO to develop the use of its treated brown coal, and claims three direct injection coal engines would be able to replace a third of the electricity generated at Hazelwood, but with vastly lower emissions.

Exergen chief executive officer Trevor Bourne told the Herald Sun his group wanted access to a billion tonnes of Victoria's brown coal, with full confidence it could make the project commercially and environmentally sound.

"We are going to invest $100 million in proving this - we are confident enough to spend that money," he said.

"We are a committed company that think we can have an impact reducing carbon dioxide and unlocking the value in the Latrobe Valley."



For more postings from me, see DISSECTING LEFTISM, TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For readers in China or for times when is playing up, there are mirrors of this site here and here


1 comment:

alternative investment said...

The UK has HUGE deposits of shale gas. With the new technologies developed by the Americans, most of it is readily acceptable and would make a dramatic difference in energy costs. The States is seeing a big uptake in manufacturers bringing new factories back to the US to take advantage of dramatically cheaper energy costs for their factories. Why can't the gov't open things up so UK companies can start ASAP developing shale gas reserves? Great export opportunities too because the French have banned shale gas exploration!